In the 70s, t-shirt decals let you wear your passion on your chest, front and center for all to see. Whatever message it was that you wanted to share with the world, a stylish representation was only as far away as the nearest shopping mall.
No longer content to be the stark white flag of teenage rebellion, the t-shirts of the 50s gave way to a rainbow of colors, each eager to serve as your very own advertising space. If you didn’t like the traditional shirt design, you could opt for a baseball tee, a muscle tee or a tank top.
Once you picked out your preferred style, it was time to select the perfect decal. Most malls had a store that specialized in iron-on transfers, their walls lined with dozens, or even hundreds of options. At the Smith Haven Mall, for example, Different Strokes was the place that handled all of your t-shirt needs, among other things.
The most popular rock bands of the day were all represented, as well as automobile logos, sports teams, television and movie celebrities, and plenty of humorous and risqué messages.
If you didn’t find anything that struck your fancy, you could always create your own personalized statement. Iron-on letters were perfect to profess your love (Matt and Michelle Forever!), express your musical tastes (Disco Sucks) or any other wisdom you wanted to display to society at large.
Having picked out your designs, a helpful employee would place your shirt on a large iron press, arranging the decals or letters face-down, and close the machine. It was a simple process but required a certain amount of finesse and care to ensure a perfect transfer. A few seconds later, your shirt was ready – warm to the touch and giving off a distinct aroma of plastic melding with fabric.
Of course, you would soon learn that the process wasn’t exactly permanent. With every wash of your beloved creation, no matter how much care you exercised, the t-shirt decals would inevitably start to peel and crack. A few months down the road and you might not even be able to read what the shirt once said.
But that was okay. By that time, you probably had matured a little, moving away from the “I’m with stupid” variety to a more sophisticated Led Zeppelin logo. After all, it was your own little billboard, a chance to share a personal message or preference with the world, and in the 70s, just about everyone took advantage of the opportunity, all in the name of fashion.
Do you remember what your favorite t-shirt decal was back in the day? Do you remember how the stores smelled? I’d love to hear all of your memories of this popular 70s fashion in our comments section below.